If there’s one thing that Hollywood should learn from 2017, it’s that plotting a multi-film series without a solid foundation can only lead to disappointment, and The Mummy – the first installment of the “Dark Universe” films that will feature rebooted version of the classic Universal monsters – almost seems to be competing with King Arthur: Legend of the Sword to determine who can fuck up a new franchise in the most spectacular fashion.
The latter film at least had moments of pure, unabashed fun sprinkled in among the many questionable decisions that were made, but The Mummy feels like some kind of bizarre social experiment, where the studio has taken a proven formula – Tom Cruise, huge action setpieces, a summer release date and a blockbuster-sized budget – and combined them in the most bland and pedestrian fashion imaginable, just to see what would happen. The result is a yawn-inducing “adventure” film that lacks any of the thrills or excitement typically associated with the genre, and serves little purpose other than to establish a host of characters and events that will be referenced in future films.
Opening with the first of many long-winded bouts of exposition, we discover that Egyptian princess
Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) murdered her father and his infant son upon realizing she would no longer inherit the throne, and for an encore she made a pact with Set, the god of death, to perform a ritual that would allow him to be reborn in the body of a human. Ahmanet’s plan was thwarted and she was mummified alive, and the ceremonial dagger needed to complete the ritual was separated from a gemstone that holds the key to Set’s power. Fast-forward a few thousand years and Nick Morton (Cruise) stumbles cross Ahmanet’s tomb, buried beneath an Iraqi village, right around the time that an archaeologist unearths a burial site of the Knights Templar in London, which just so happens to contain the gemstone.
If you’re expecting the film to offer an explanation – even a vague one – of how the Knights Templar came to be involved in the safekeeping of this relic, then I’m afraid you’ll be going home disappointed, as this is but a single entry on an impressively detailed list of things that make zero sense. Of course, with six different writers credited on the film, it’s no wonder the plot of The Mummy is a muddled mess – it consistently feels like several different films have been hastily mashed together.
Director Alex Kurtzman attempts to imbue The Mummy with elements of action, horror, adventure, and romance – each falling flatter than the last – and efforts to recapture the charm and humor of the 1999 Brendan Fraser version are woefully inadequate. There’s exactly one moment in the film that elicits genuine laughter, and it comes from Cruise himself, who seems to have spent quite a few hours perfecting his Nathan Drake impression before filming commenced. Meanwhile, Jake Johnson’s wisecracking sidekick – clearly meant to be the film’s comic relief – finds himself in a dead heat with Johnny Depp’s latest turn as Jack Sparrow for this year’s most painfully unfunny cinematic character.
Audiences that inexplicably find themselves looking forward to future “Dark Universe” installments may find solace in Russell Crowe’s delightfully hammy portrayal of Henry Jekyll and his sadistic alter ego, which serves as a momentary beacon of light shining through the cloud of computer-generated sandstorms and smoke. But for the most part, The Mummy is a cacophony of tedium and mediocrity, and may very well become a cautionary tale about Hollywood’s misguided habit of putting the cart before the horse.